Southern falls to top-ranked Arizona 69-43
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)
Southern gave Marquette and Florida a bit of trouble in road games earlier this season.
Once the Jaguars got behind No. 1 Arizona, they didn't stand much of a chance.
Southern tried to fight back from a big early hole, but struggled from the 3-point line and on free throws in a 69-43 loss to the Wildcats on Thursday night.
''My team is trying to find an identity and we have a long way to go,'' Southern coach Roman Banks said. ''My concern is that we didn't show character, we floated all night long. Arizona is a great basketball team, but I thought we played on our toes.''
Coming off a comeback road win over Michigan on Saturday, Arizona (12-0) raced out to a 15-point first-half lead over the Jaguars despite having to shift players to new positions with 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski out. The second half wasn't quite as smooth and the Wildcats went 22 of 37 on free throws, but turned it over just eight times and played well at the defensive end to start 12-0 in non-conference action for the second straight season.
Aaron Gordon scored 21 points and Nick Johnson had 16 for Arizona, which outscored Southern 34-12 in the paint despite Tarczewski's absence. Brandon Ashley finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
''Overall, we're headed in the right direction,'' Johnson said. ''Kaleb is a big body down low that takes up a lot of space in terms of rebounding and limiting second shots. He's really our rim protector.''
Southern (3-8) had miserable first half and tried to claw its way back early in the second. The Jaguars never were able to dig out of that big hole, going 5 for 21 from 3-point range and 4 of 15 on free throws.
Malcolm Miller and Calvin Godfrey had 11 points each for Southern.
''We won't play anybody like Arizona,'' Miller said. ''This game is going to help us be more confident against our future opponents.''
Southern didn't figure to pose much of a threat to the long, athletic Wildcats.
The Jaguars nearly pulled off a monumental upset in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament, leading No. 1 Gonzaga late before losing to the Zags.
Southern is a much different team this year after losing four seniors and with Godfrey ailing because of an elbow injury.
It went about as expected early.
Even without Tarczewski, who sprained his ankle against Michigan on Saturday, Arizona dominated Southern from the start, building a 12-point by the midpoint of the first half.
The Wildcats kept rolling behind the wheeling and dealing of T.J. McConnell (five assists) and inside game of Gordon, who had eight of his 10 first-half points on layups or dunks.
Southern tried to work inside-out on offense, without much luck; Arizona had an 18-2 advantage in the paint in the first half.
The Jaguars couldn't seem to hit much from anywhere, shooting 7 of 24, including 3 of 11 from the 3-point arc, in the opening 20 minutes.
The Wildcats, on the other hand, had little trouble scoring, hitting 13 of 24 shots from the floor. Had they been a little better without pressure - 6 of 16 on free throws - the lead would have been even more than 34-19 at halftime.
''They did what they were best at and accomplished a lot in the first half,'' Godfrey said.
Southern was better offensively to open the second half and chipped the lead down to 10.
The Jaguars had no answer for Gordon.
The freshman phenom used his long arms to reach over defenders for offensive rebounds and his strength to bull past them for putbacks. Gordon added a 3-pointer from the wing and hit three straight free throws after going 0 for 4 in the first half, drawing cheers from the home fans.
''It's hilarious, pretty much a realization that I'm not making free throws,'' said Gordon, who made 85 of 100 free throws during the team shootaround. ''It made me laugh, we have great fans who are very supportive of me and it made me shoot a little better.''
That turned out to be the only excitement in the second half as Arizona prevented the Jaguars from getting any closer.